Legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom sends a heart-warming letter of reassurance to young Maurice Sendak.
How legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom cultivated the genius of Maurice Sendak (June 10, 1928 — May 8, 2012) – an infinitely heartening letter to young Sendak, 1961.
[The theatre director and actor] Paul [Lazar] also said to me, ‘You know, there’s no guarantee of making a good living, moneywise, in [the art] world, so if that’s what you want—you know, monetary success, if that’s where the value lies—maybe you made a wrong choice quite a few years ago.
I was at the Obie Awards the other night, and I had the same feeling. These people were winning awards, some of them were known but really most of them, unless you’re in the theatre world…are unknown, and they’ve been working, a lot of them, for years and years, decades sometimes, and have these incredibly satisfying lives doing what it is that they love to do. I don’t know all their financial circumstances…I think for some of you that’s gotta be really scary right now.
Well, this is really what matters, that’s really what matters, and it’s something that’s not reflected in these pie charts or graphs. And that’s where these graphs and pie charts lead us astray. They give us kind of false values, and make us think that we have to grade everything according to this criteria, which is not true. The decision is yours, ours—whatever. And I believe that there is a way to have a very, very satisfying, enriching and creative life in the arts, but it depends on what criteria you use to look at that. But I would say that if you’re being creative, with happiness, satisfaction, all that—you’re succeeding. That’s it for me.
David Byrne’s commencement address at Columbia’s School of the Arts got the short end of the media coverage stick, dubbed a “downer” by some and a “disappointment” by others. But such reactions seem to be missing Byrne’s Allan Wattsian point – rather than telling graduating seniors not to enter the arts, the heart of Byrne’s message seems to be that this is a new creative landscape in which we should aim to find our own purpose, define our own success, and not succumb to the cult of money as the measure of fulfilling work.
Complement with this season’s other notable commencement addresses: Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life, Greil Marcus on “high” and “low” culture, Arianna Huffington on success, Joss Whedon on embracing our inner contradictions, Oprah Winfrey on failure and finding your purpose, and Judith Butler on the value of reading and the humanities.
Also see David Byrne on how creativity works.
Happy birthday, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Fail Safe – not your usual fluff-advice on living the creative life to the fullest.
“it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen,” writes Rudyard Kipling in a newly discovered letter explaining The Jungle Book to an unidentified female friend.
It’s tempting for news organizations in the business of drawing eyeballs with sensationalism to cry plagiarism and much less scandalous to acknowledge this is a mere testament to the nature of all creative work – a tragically simplistic take on a profound truth about the combinatorial nature of truly inventive ideas. As Mark Twain famously put it, “substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.” A close look at art reveals that everything builds on what came before, and even celebrated neurologist Oliver Sacks tells us that creativity relies on the “necessary forgettings” of sources. The difference between plagiarism and process, between imitation and influence, is very often merely a result of the lens with which we choose to interpret it.
At io9, a fascinating discussion of what it means to “sell out” and why the term itself is fraught.
As Steven Pressfield put it, “To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
As Lynda Barry keenly observed, the arts should be “not this thing that is going to get you somewhere, in terms of becoming an artist or becoming famous, but rather a way of making being in the world not just bearable but fascinating.”
Ultimately, David Foster Wallace nailed it in his now-legendary Kenyon College commencement address: “Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.”
Pair with history’s greatest definitions of art.
Celebrated cartoonist and reconstructionist Lynda Barry considers the point at which many people give up on the arts as their inborn creativity is stifled. From an NPR conversation about her unorthodox course on drawing, The Unthinkable Mind, and her new book, The Freddie Stories.
Complement with Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity.
Roger von Oech deconstructs the four archetypes of creativity. Of course, this model is highly reductionist, missing many critical aspects of the creative mind, chiefly the Bisociator and the Connection-Weaver.
Amanda Palmer on the creativity.
When was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.” I remember going to the Michigan poetry festival, meeting Etheridge Knight there and Robert Creeley. Creeley was so drunk—he was reading and he only had one eye, of course, and had to hold his book like two inches from his face using his one good eye. But you look at somebody like George Saunders—I think he’s the best short story writer in English alive—that’s somebody who tries very hard to live a sane, alert life.
You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist.
In an interview with The Fix, Mary Karr debunks the toxic mythology that it is necessary to be damaged in order to be creative. My own vehement defiance to that mythology is what led me to choose Ray Bradbury – the ultimate epitome of creating from joy rather than suffering – as the subject of my contribution to The New York Times’ The Lives They Lived.
Pair with Karr on why writers write.
Legendary science essayist Stephen Jay Gould, who took his last breath 11 years ago this week, on why making unexpected connections is the key to creativity.